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August 28, 2007
Revamped staff at FSU brings big credibilty
Bobby Bowden insists he plans to continue coaching as long as possible, but that hasn't stopped the Florida State coach from referring to this chapter of his career as his last shot.
Bowden, 77, spent his most recent offseason making some of the biggest changes of his 32-year tenure at Florida State. Bowden overhauled his coaching staff and changed four of his five his offensive assistants in the wake of a 7-6 season.
Although Florida State posted its worst record last year since a 5-6 finish in Bowden's debut season of 1976, the poor results didn't necessarily spur the veteran coach into making the changes.
Bowden instead decided to make the moves only after his son Jeff resigned under pressure following a much-maligned six-year stint as the Seminoles' offensive coordinator.
"You know what's funny is you won't do things a lot of times till somebody makes you," Bowden said. "If I hadn't lost my son as offensive coordinator, I never would have done this. But Jeffrey resigned. I felt, 'Gee whiz, if it's going to get this drastic, this is my last shot. I'm going to make it the best I can make it. I'm going to get the best coaching staff I can get in here.' "
Florida State hired offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher from Louisiana State, where he helped make JaMarcus Russell the top overall pick in the most recent NFL Draft. New offensive line coach Rick Trickett developed a reputation for producing lean-and-mean blockers while helping West Virginia establish one of the nation's top rushing attacks.
The Seminoles also welcomed back a few familiar faces.
Wide receivers coach Lawrence Dawsey coached receivers at South Florida the last three years, but he perhaps is best known as a former first-team All-America receiver at Florida State. Although new running backs coach Dexter Carter has no previous coaching experience at any level, the former first-round draft pick remains the fifth-leading rusher in Florida State history.
And when former linebackers coach Kevin Steele left to become Alabama's defensive coordinator, Bowden brought back Chuck Amato to replace him. Amato had spent 18 years as a Florida State assistant before beginning his seven-year tenure as North Carolina State's coach.
Bowden is hoping all the changes will spark a program that has finished outside the top 10 of the final Associated Press poll every year since putting together its record run of 14 consecutive top-five finishes from 1987-2000.
The changes already have come quickly on Florida State's offensive line.
During the news conference announcing his hiring, Trickett quipped that he'd told his linemen Jenny Craig would arrive on campus the next day.
"We've got to lose some weight," Trickett said. "We've got to get our strength back. Most of all, we have to have an attitude. We're going to formulate an attitude. We're going to get hard-nosed, and we're going to be physical, and we're going to get after people."
Trickett has lived up to that vow.
Florida State's linemen combined to lose 180 pounds during the offseason, They are attempting to mirror the success of Trickett's West Virginia lines, which managed to overpower opponents despite a lack of bulk.
Trickett also has frequently shuffled the depth chart on the line with little regard for what guys have done in the past. His prize pupil thus far is redshirt freshman Ryan McMahon, a former reserve defensive lineman who moved to center. McMahon beat out incumbent starter John Frady, who has since moved to tight end.
"He says when it gets too tough for everybody else, it's just right for us," McMahon said. "If you want to take a play off, he won't let you, so you're always trying to get better."
Trickett is trying to spark a rushing attack that ranked 103rd out of 119 Division I-A teams last year after placing 109th in 2005.
Lorenzo Booker, a former five-star prospect who was drafted in the third round by the Miami Dolphins, never managed to rush for 1,000 yards at Florida State. Neither could Leon Washington, who rushed for more yards as a rookie with the New York Jets (650) than he did as a senior at Florida State (430).
In fact, nobody at Florida State has run for 1,000 yards since Warrick Dunn reached that plateau three consecutive years from 1994-96.
The Seminoles believe an improved line and a retooled coaching staff could help Antone Smith end that drought this season.
"When you have a coach who knows what he's doing, that gives you all the confidence in the world," Smith said. "You know he's going to put us in the right situation at the right times to make us successful."
Florida State also needs to throw the ball better.
Since Chris Weinke won the Heisman Trophy in 2000, Florida State has struggled to find consistency at the quarterback position. Florida State quarterbacks have combined to throw 51 touchdown passes and 50 interceptions the last three years.
After leading the Seminoles to the Atlantic Coast Conference title as a redshirt freshman, Drew Weatherford failed to improve last year. Former five-star prospect Xavier Lee hasn't capitalized on numerous opportunities to seize the job from Weatherford.
"The first thing is you have to make the routine play," Fisher said. "(Weatherford) made the routine play more consistently than Xavier did for the most part during camp. I think that set him apart."
Fisher's track record shows he could help Weatherford or Lee develop into an exceptional quarterback.
He worked as LSU's offensive coordinator when the Tigers won a share of the 2003 national title. Fisher's guidance helped Russell improve as much as any quarterback in the nation over the course of last season.
Fisher also has plenty of familiarity with his new colleagues.
He played quarterback at Salem College for Terry Bowden, another of Bobby's sons. Fisher and Trickett worked together on Terry Bowden's Auburn coaching staff from 1993-98.
"The one thing about Jimbo is his record has proved he's a good quarterback coach," Bowden said. "I've watched him coach with us. I've known him ever since he was a player with Terry. He's got a good way of communicating with players. He's very demanding. They have to do it right. He's very demanding, very sharp, and I think he's a good play caller."
Carter, Dawsey and Amato offer reminders of Florida State's glory days.
Florida State finished fourth or higher in the AP poll each of Dawsey's four seasons at the school and in three of Carter's four years. Amato was part of the Seminoles' staff during their 1993 and 1999 national championship seasons.
While the changes on the offensive coaching staff have earned the majority of the attention, the hiring of Amato may represent the biggest coup of all. Amato's return should help Florida State overcome the loss of Steele, who tutored first-round draft picks Ernie Sims and Lawrence Timmons during his four seasons as the Seminoles' linebackers coach.
"The most successful teams we've had at Florida State were when Chuck Amato was working with Mickey Andrews," Bowden said. "Those two are pretty hard to beat."
But the Seminoles won't match that success unless Florida State's offensive coaches develop into an equally effective combination.
(Derek Redd of The Osceola contributed to this report.)
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Steve Megargee is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.